Washington Park home. Fountain of Time Sculpture and Basin restoration.

New Allison Davis Garden in Washington Park honors a pioneer and a recommitment to inclusion

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Dedicated September 17 2005 is a new gateway at the southeast corner of Washington Park, between Cottage Grove Avenue and Lorado Taft's monumental Fountain of Time at Payne Drive. It also stands at a historic intersection, often divide between neighborhoods and neighbor space.

Besides being a wonderful frame for the Fountain and a gatherings amphitheater, Peter Lindsay Shaudt-designed Allison Davis Garden honors a pioneer at the University of Chicago and points to linkage between neighborhoods and between the University of Chicago and UC Hospitals and their surrounding neighborhoods- linkage that was for decades disrupted. The panels below tell the story of Allison Davis, 1902-1983, first African American to earn a PhD at the University and become a tenured faculty member (Department of Education), and the first to mount a credible challenge to the racial assumptions and agenda intertwined with intelligence testing and other of what Stephen Gould called the "miss measurement of man."
See three background articles and description of the dedication with pictures following this set of pictures.

Be advised this is more of a green or common ground than a garden. Although there are living parts to be maintained, the funders thought it more important to tell the story of Davis and of the space.

Pictures by Gary Ossewaarde

Davis Garden plaque, Washington Park Davis Garden north looking to Fountain of Time
Plaque in Davis Garden Washinton Park noting that Davis crossed this racial barrier daily as the first tenured professor at the U of C Allison Davis Garden south side at se corner of Washinton Park
Plaque in Davis garden amphitheater, Washington Park. Davis 1902-1983 strove for an educational system that would help all children overcome barriers of caste and class. The US Postal System honored him with a stamp in 1994 as a challenger of intelligence testing based on cultural bias. Across the lawn of the Allison Davis Garden,  Washington Park Taft's Fountain of Time
From Davis' 1948 thesis, Social Class Influences on Learning: If people of different cultures cannot associate freely, they cannot learn one another's special form of the American language, manners, morals and social and psychological goals. From Davis Garden to Taft's Fountain of Time.
Allison Davis from his U of C convocation address 1970: Although we seem trapped in an age of anger and dispair, the alternatives remain the same a in all other ages. We can scuttle, or we can sail  the seas. "Navegare necesse est."  One must chart his course and sail. Davis Garden to Taft Fountain

 

From the November 3, 2004 Hyde Park Herald (by Mike Stevens):

As the first African-American tenured professor at the University of Chicago, Allison Davis helped break down borders between a historically white university and the surrounding black communities.

Next summer a new one-acre garden west of the Midway bearing the renowned social anthropologist's name and his words will try to continue that trend.

For decades, the two block-wide Midway Park stretching from Stony Island Ave. to Cottage Grove Avenue has separated the heart of the university from Woodlawn, a predominatedly African-American neighborhood. As a Woodlawn resident, Davis crossed that border everyday going to work.

"My hope is that the garden memorializes that boundary and [helps] dissolve the boundary it also marks," said Danielle Allen, Dean of he Humanities Division at U. of C.

Allen was researching the African-American professors at the university when she was asked to write a brief biography and select quotes from Davis that will be placed on four plaques at the new park.

Work began on the Allison Davis Memorial Garden this summer which will sit directly east of Washington Park's "Fountain of Time" sculpture. The $800,000 project is part of Washington Park's ongoing capital improvements which include a lagoon restoration, a new mini-arboretum and the restoration of the "Fountain of Time."

Funding shortfalls have delayed the project for years. Funders include the Davis family, the Chicago Park District, the Chicago Community Trust and he University of Chicago. The University of Chicago, which donated $100,000 for the project, has agreed to oversee construction.

"We are very pleased to participate with the Davis family and the park district," Vice-President of Community Affairs Hank Webber said.

Earlier this summer, crews installed drainage and irrigation systems, poured concrete and laid electrical conduit readying the site for a limestone ring of three shallow steps. The steps will lead to a submerged lawn surrounded by oak and linden trees.

The steps should take six weeks to install, creating a[?] timeline because the limestone must be set before temperatures drop, park district project manager Claudine Malik said. "If November is cold we'll have to put it off through spring," Malik said. Regardless, temporary chain link fences will stay up through winter until work crews can finish.

The carnivals which had annually set up shop on that part of the Midway will move to an undetermined location, Malik said.

Born in 1902, William Allison Davis became known for ground-breaking field studies, seen in such books as "Children of Bondage" (1940) and "Deep South" (1941) which used anthropological techniques to explore how race and social class influence education and learning among children.

After coming to the University of Chicago in 1939, Davis studied standardized tests used by public schools to gauge students intelligence. Davis argued that cultural biases of standardized tests unfairly branded lower income children as less intelligent. Afterwards, many public school systems, including those in New York, Chicago, Detroit and San Francisco,abandoned the tests. In 1948, Davis became tenured faculty at U. of C., making him one of the first tenured African-American professors at a non-historically black university.

"He is someone who defended human potential and called people to account for foreclosing opportunities," Allen said. "[He] provides a model on how to live as a human being and as an intellectual."

Davis died shortly after open heart surgery in 1983. He was 81.

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From the September 14, 2005 Herald: Ground-breaking prof honored at weekend garden opening

By Jeremy Adragna

A garden commemorating the life and work of the first African-American tenured professor of University of Chicago, Dr. Allison Davis, is set to open this weekend.

The Dr. Allison Davis Garden [abuts] the Midway Plaisance between Cottage Grove Avenue and Lor[a]do Taft's "Fountain of Time" sculpture and will include plagues bearing a brief biography od Davis and quotes which punctuate his work in the field of social anthropology. Davis spent much of his career teaching and researching at the university the use of standardized tests in schools.

The garden is one of several new projects slated to be constructed and revamped on the Midway Plaisance as part of the university's Master Plan project including a Children's Garden Playground, an Urban Horticulture Center and several gardens east of the Cottage Grove Avenue.

Parts of Washington Park to which the Davis Garden and "Fountain of Time" serve as a gateway, have also been set for a spruce up including the fountain's reflecting pool and lagoon restoration. "My father passed the site of this garden every day, crossing a race line from his African-American neighborhood in Woodlawn [the Langley part west of Cottage Grove], where our family grew up, to his office at t he university," said Hyde Parker Allison Davis Jr. last year.

Davis Sr. died in 1983 following heart surgery and at he urging of his son, the Davis family partnered with the U. of C. to create a park in which visitors could take better advantage of the west end of the Midway Plaisance in view of the "Fountain of Time."

"We advanced the idea that this part of the park should have a better use and it's a nice place for people to have a a better view of the "Fountain of Time," Davis said last week.

Funded by the Davis family, the university and the Chicago Park District, the $800,000 garden will officially open this Saturday, Sept. 17 at 10:30 a.m.

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'My father crossed the race line'

Hyde Park Herald, September 21, 2005. By Brian Wellner, Editor

A one-acre park off Cottage Grove Avenue became a crossroads in the life of Dr. Allison Davis, University of Chicago's first tenured black professor. While living in the 6100 block of South Langley Avenue in a predominantly African-American neighborhood, he would cross the small park at the far west end of the Midway Plaisance to his office on the university's Hyde Park campus. His sons Allison Davis Jr. and Gordon Davis crossed the park to attend U. of C. Lab Schools growing up.

Home was west of Cottage Grove; work and school were to the east. Until the 1950s, Cottage Grove had been a visible racial barrier between two very segregated neighborhoods. Davis couldn't own a home in Hyde Park or Kenwood because of his race. The small park was his gateway to opportunity and eventually to racial integration . It wa therefore fitting to many who visited the same park on Saturday that a garden on the site be named in his honor.

"It extends a hand from east to west," said Allison Davis Jr. to a crowd of Hyde Park and University of Chicago dignitaries as well as Mayor Richard M. Daley and Chicago Park District Director of Planning and Development Arnold Randall.

"My father crossed the race line," he said. A longtime Kenwood resident, the professor's namesake recalled climbing on the nearby Fountain of Time sculpture and frolicking in the Washington Park lagoon in his youth. "This park was our playground," he said.

The circular shaped garden, designed by landscape architect Peter Lindsay Shaut of Chicago, sits between the north and south drives of the Midway, Cottage Grove Avenue on the east and the meandering Payne Drive on the west. From this perspective, one can survey the expanse of the Midway and Washington Park, the gothic university buildings that tower above a wall of trees and the old neighborhood to the south and west, around Sexton Elementary School, where the Davis family spent their formative years in Chicago.

Concrete steps interrupted by four tablets highlighting milestones in the professor's life encircle a grassy area. Danielle Allen, dean of the university's humanities [division], selected passages for the tablets and read one aloud Saturday. "[...] One must chart his course and sail," Allen quoted the professor from his convocation address to the university in 1970.

"Dr Davis," as members of his family affectionately referred to him by, received a doctorate in anthropology from the university in 1942, one of the first African Americans in the country to earn such a degree from a higher learning institution that was not an historical black college or university. The university then invited Davis to join its faculty and by 1970 named him its John Dewey Distinguished Service Professor of Education.

Throughout his long career at U. of C. until his death in 1983, Davis researched the influence of social and economic factors in the education of poor children and criticized intelligence testing as being culturally biased.

The professor was born in 1902 in Washington D.C., graduated class valedictorian form Williams College and earned two master's degrees from Harvard University. A stamp commemorating Davis was issued in February 1994.

In an interview with the Herald following the ceremony, Allen said that in addition to researching social injustice, Davis dealt with similar challenges in his personal life. "He faced class and caste differences everyday," she said. The garden, Allen said, stands between two neighborhoods of Chicago that experienced starkly different histories. More than just his pathway to work, the garden "brings together in physical reality what Davis brought together in life and scholarship," she said.

The reality of class division still plagues the neighborhood where Gordon and Davis Jr. grew up. During his speech, Davis Jr. pointed out that in the 2000 census, the median income of a Langley Avenue household was $13,000 while that of Hyde Park, less than half of mile away, was $126,000. "It's an unsettling fact about the old neighborhood beyond the trees," he said.

Gordon, who lives in New York and flew in for Saturday's ceremony, said that while he attended Hyde Park High School in the 1950s, his father moved the family from Langley Avenue to a home at 50th Street and Greenwood Avenue, one of the first minority families to move to the Kenwood neighborhood. He added that since the 1950s the Hyde Park and Kenwood neighborhoods have become one of the most racially integrated areas in the country, an outcome owed in part to his father's legacy. "Just by who he was and his field of study, he had absolute influence on scores of people," Gordon Davis said.

Joan Feitler, a student of Davis, Sr's in the 1950s, still remembers a class she had of his called Social Class in America. "It was one of the greatest experiences I ever had," she said. Before Saturday's ceremony. Feitler shared some old papers with Davis Jr. that had his father's marks scribbled all over them.

Both Ald. Leslie Hairston and Arnold Randall grew up just blocks away from David's Langley Avenue home and were personally touched by the professor's legacy. "He broke down barriers and opened opportunities," Hairston said.

Davis Jr. urged the creation of the garden and with the University of Chicago, Chicago Park District, Chicago Community Trust and others lent the $800,000 for its construction. Reflecting back on his childhood, he felt this junction between the Midway and Washington Park, and the east and west sides of Cottage Grove avenue, could be better utilized.

Instead of crisscrossing the park as he and his father had done for years, people could stop, sit, meditate and enjoy the view.

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Dedication September 17, 2oo5: more is said than is usually the case in commemorative gardens, and there's still more than can be told in stone

City and U of C dignitaries including Mayor Daley, three aldermen, President Randel, Dean Allen, officials of city agencies, and members of the Davis family met a large throng of well wishers in the Davis Garden at the southeast corner of Washington Park to dedicate the park's newest amenity. The site chosen has the advantages of never having been built on (although used from time to time for pickup ball games) and in fact was rather shabby, provided an opportunity to build a fine transition and gateways between parts of the south parks and boulevard systems at a corner of the University campus while providing a fine viewing bowl for the Fountain of Time, while calling attention to boundaries and meeting spaces between neighborhoods and peoples.

Four carved tablets set at the compass points of a shallow bowl-rise (interrupting the bowl sides formed by three concrete steps) tell Davis' achievements and research and quote from his works. (The quotes were selected by Professor Danielle Allen, Dean of Humanities at the University.)

Allison Davis, Jr. pointed out that his family grew up across the street to the south, on Langley St., a part of the Langley (or West Woodlawn) neighborhood between Cottage Grove and King Drive. This was a neighborhood that was rather late to turn over, but when it did was home to professionals, business persons, Pullman porters and teachers as well as poor people. Davis read a roll call of the black families in the area, many of whose members attained considerable prestige and accomplishment. Still, blacks could not patronize the ballrooms and clubs on the east side of Cottage Grove or use the Archery, Stables, Bowling Green and (at first) grand pool in Washington Park. Every day professor Allison Davis, Sr. crossed a racial barrier right at this point on his way to work. After restrictive covenants were ruled unenforceable, many, including the Davis family, moved into formerly (almost) all white communities. Now the neighborhood is heavily vacant, the median income is a bare $13,000 (vs Hyde Park $126,000), and the school across the street has barely 20% performing at national standard and has a turnover rate of 58% yearly.

For this and other reasons, Davis announced that his family and others are forming a Langley Improvement Association to revive the area and provided improved upkeep and new amenities for Washington Park. Funds will also be raised to endow and maintain the Garden itself.

Mayor Daley, Alderman Troutman and others described the importance of Allison Davis, Sr's work to rethinking and reviving our schools particularly with regard to minority youth. They also praised the commitment of the University to school improvement, which includes working with all the schools of Area 15 including those to the south of the park and campus.

Funders include the Davis Family, The University of Chicago, Chicago Community Trust, and the Chicago Park District.

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Speakers and individuals shown are, in order, U of C President Don Michael Randel; Mayor Daley with the 3 aldermen and Randel in background; Aldermen Hairston (left, 5th), Troutman (20th), and Preckwinkle (4th) who share Washington Park; Danielle Allen, Dean of the Humanities Division; ribbon cutting (a Davis granddaughter does the honors); Allison Davis, Jr. Pictures by Gary Ossewaarde

Gathering for the Sept 17 dedication. Setup for the dedication with Fountain of Time in the background
University of Chicago President Don Michael Randel addresses. Mayor Richard M. Daley addresses, with  the 3 alderman and Randel in back.
l-r Aldermen Hairston, Troutman, Preckwinkle with Mayor daley. Humanities Dean Danielle A. Allen addresses and reads one of the plaques.
Ribbon cutting Allison Davis, Jr. addresses and announces funding mechanism for the park and nearby neighborhood.

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